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Friday, February 4, 2011

Lights out for lighthouses?

Last March the US government pulled the plug on LORAN, because, heck, we have GPS now. Now apparently there's discussion of cutting funding for the maintenance of lighthouses and other aids to navigation, using the same rationale. That's an awful lot of confidence to place in a satellite system which has already demonstrated its fallibility on a fairly regular basis. I get that budgets are tight, and both parties are looking for things to cut. But I'm guessing that it would only take a couple of supertankers running aground in Puget Sound or Chesapeake Bay to justify the cost of maintaining a few lighthouses. But what do I know, I just drive boats for a living.

CNN-- For centuries lighthouses have shone a friendly beam for sailors, fishermen and ferry passengers alike, steadily providing safe passage ashore and capturing a special place in the public imagination.
However, with the advent of sophisticated and increasingly cheap Global Positioning Systems (GPS), a question mark now looms over the future of these iconic coastal beacons.
"These are worrying times for lighthouses," said Jeremy D'Entremont, president of the American Lighthouse Foundation. "Everyone loves them, but as far as the government is concerned, they're not exactly a spending priority."
According to D'Entremont, although about 75% of lighthouses are still operating as "navigational aids" in the United States, federal funding is now almost exclusively limited to the mechanical maintenance of the lights.
"This leaves little or nothing for upkeep of the buildings themselves," he said. Without the support of local groups or the backing of a private buyer, he added, many lighthouses are "just left to rot."

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